How-To Geek

The Best Free Ways to Share Photos With Friends and Family (Other Than Facebook)

Facebook might be the default platform for sharing photos, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only free and easy to use option out there. Here are some other solid photo sharing options to make it easy to share photos with friends and family the way you want to.

The biggest thing to keep in mind while reviewing our picks to think not about selecting the one with the absolute best features, but about picking the one that will be the easiest for your friends and family to use. When it comes to family photo sharing, the deal breakers aren’t usually the little features, but whether or not everyone will adopt using the service in the first place.

With that in mind, we’ve placed special emphasis on ease of use for each of our recommendations with a primary focus on photo-centered services, including key details that are particularly important when sharing with friends and family like: whether or not the viewer needs an account to use the service, how easy it is to organize your photos, how photos are uploaded (and if they are stored at full resolution and quality), and so on.

Instagram

If you’re looking for an easy to use alternative to Facebook in terms of simple photo sharing with a social media feel, Instagram is a logical alternative. (Yes, we know it’s owned by Facebook, but for now, it’s a separate service—and one much more focused on photos.) The service is completely free, easy to install and setup on your mobile device, and while Instagram may have made a name for itself in terms of hashtags and public photos, it’s very easy to set your account to private (which you should do right from the start!) and use it only to share with friends—effectively creating a tiny photo-centered social network just for the people you care about. On the downside, the private account feature only works if everyone has an account, which means your whole band of friends and family have to sign up if you wish to keep your photos private. Further, if the people you’re sharing with want a traditional look-at-albums experience, Instagram isn’t it, as photos flow down the feed and looking at old photos requires lengthy scrolling.

While your photos are uploaded to Instagram at full resolution, they are not displayed at full resolution, nor is there any built-in way for the viewer to save the photos at all—which might be an issue for grandparents hungry for physical photos to put on the fridge. Additionally, if your primary photo workflow is more of a sit-down-at-your-PC one (as opposed to snapping pics on the go and uploading them right from the park where your kids are playing), you’ll probably want to skip Instagram altogether. Instagram has been, and remains, a mobile app, and the only official way to upload photos to Instagram is via their mobile app. The desktop site is…lacking, to say the least.

Best for: People who want a social media experience centered around photo sharing.

Flickr

Flickr remains one of the highest profile photo sharing sites on the internet, and with good reason: the entire service is oriented around high quality photo sharing, and the free tier of the service has a lot to offer. A free Flickr account will get you 1TB of storage (more than even most prolific shutterbugs could fill up in years of shooting) as well as flexible privacy settings.  Photos are uploaded and stored at full resolution, and you can easily configure your account so the viewers are able to download the full resolution photos (or at home printing or sending them off to a photo service).

Your friends and family can either sign up for a free Flickr account (and you can use their Flickr username to manage their access to your photos) or you can share individual photos, albums, or even your entire photo stream through a guest user pass delivered to them via email. By default, Flickr photos are public (unsurprising given Flickr’s history as one of the earliest photo sharing platforms) so be sure to pay attention to privacy settings before uploading your personal photos.

Best for: Photography enthusiasts who want to mix hobby and family time—you get plenty of storage for both your hobby projects as well as sharing albums with family.

Google Photos

Previously known as Picasa Web Albums, Google Photos is a pretty appealing option thanks to the unlimited storage for photos under 16 megapixels (which make up the vast majority of snapshots taken by home photographers) and ease of sharing. Your photos are uploaded in their full resolution and once shared with friends and family (via a mobile number or email address), they can be downloaded in the same resolution. Furthermore, you can give those same people upload rights to your album which makes it useful for gathering together all, say, the family Christmas party photos in one place from all the different photographers in the group.

Google Photos is one of the services we recommended in our guide to bulletproof photo backup thanks to the cost and how easily you can automate your mobile and desktop photo backups. Add in the ease of sharing with friends and family, and you’ve got a compelling option that both secures and privately shares your photos.

Best for: People with lots of photos on their PCs and phones. Google Photos for mobile devices and the Google Photos uploader make automatic uploading of all your photos a snap regardless of where they’re stored.

Amazon Photos

If you’re one of the 63 million Amazon Prime subscribers, you’ve got a solid photo backup and sharing system right at your fingertips (even if you didn’t realize it). Amazon Photos gives you unlimited full-resolution photo backup, the ability to add up to five family members to their “Family Vault” to collect and share photos, and—like Google Photos—you can also share individual photos or albums by email or a shareable link, no Amazon account needed.

With their shared access, they can upload photos (if they’re part of the Family Vault) or download your photos at full resolution for personal printing. Amazon Photos includes competitively priced print ordering (including photo products like photo books and holiday cards) right through Amazon with free delivery. If you’re already a Prime member, it’s almost foolish not to take advantage of this membership perk.

Best for: People with Prime accounts that want to maximize the value they get out of their Prime Subscription and offer easy photo pooling for family members.

Photobucket

For readers who are most interested in sharing photos in a way that makes it dead simple for the recipients to order prints, Photobucket is a worthwhile option. While it’s a bit light on storage in the free tier (you only get 2GB free plus an 8GB bonus if you install the Photobucket mobile app), it works well as a place to put your best pictures.

What Photobucket lacks in terms of storage and extra features (like albums multiple family members can contribute to), it absolutely makes up for in ease of use for physical prints. Your family members will be able to not only easily download the original images without an account (just using the shared link to your password protected album), but also order both prints and even photo products. If grandma wants a mug with Junior’s face on it, she won’t have to bug you to make that happen.

We do have one strong word of caution about Photobucket, though. For some inexplicable reason, the default setting on a new Photobucket account is public (even though Photobucket doesn’t have the same public sharing vibe that Instagram and Flickr do), and if you don’t set your account to private in the privacy settings before you begin uploading your photos, then they’re simply out there for the world, accessible to anyone–definitely take a moment to dig around in the settings before you jump right into filling up the default “bucket” with your photos.

Best for: People who want a photo storage/printing service that allows the user and guests to download full resolution photos.

Shutterfly

Like the premise of Photobucket (easy sharing + easy printing), but want a little more bang in your free account? Consider Shutterfly like Photobucket on steroids. First, Shutterfly offers unlimited photo storage—the promise to never delete a photo unless the customer deletes it is a prominent part of their business model.

Second, not only can you easily share albums with your friends and family through the same method we’ve seen repeatedly throughout this list—emailing them a shared link—but you can also create a format website for your shared photos with a vanity url like fitzpatrickphotos.shutterfly.com. The only downside to the custom site route is that the only way to make it private is if all users have a Shutterfly account. One ding against Shutterfly is that, unlike the rest of the services listed here sans Instagram, there’s no way for the user or guests to download the full resolution files.

Finally, it’s dead simple, regardless of which sharing method you use, for your family members to easily order both prints and any of the numerous photo products from Shutterfly.

Best for: People who want unlimited photo storage combined with a very large print/product marketplace for ease of ordering.


However you choose to share your photos with friends and family, we hope you’re also taking the time to ensure they are backed up safe and sound so everyone can enjoy them for years to come.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 11/9/16
  • Csmikle

    Google Photos and Amazon but not OneDrive? How do you figure? When the photos get integrated right on your PC? And you get search and tag and album features?How does something like Instagram count or compare?

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